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2011: A YEAR IN THEATER

The last 12 months have exhibited some of the best I’ve seen on stage, some of the worst I can remember, and some missed opportunities that certainly could have been fixed. The personalities shown, the debuts were stunning, and the ensemble work made me smile a lot.

Take for instance, the charming and talented Jeremy Jordan, who seemingly came out of nowhere to steal the show out in New Jersey in the Broadway-bound “Newsies” at the Paper Mill Playhouse. But he was committed to do Frank Wildhorn’s “Bonnie And Clyde” on Broadway as well, so, when “Newsies” burst upon the scene and he got those incredible notices, people wondered, what happens if “Bonnie And Clyde” turns out to be a smash hit as well? Well, it wasn’t a smash hit, even though Wildhorn’s score was his best in years, sort of a Kander and Ebb homage, and Jordan was terrific as Clyde Barrow. But the critics were laying in wait for Wildhorn again, and so, “Bonnie and Clyde” closed, and Disney’s “Newsies, based upon the cult movie classic with the devoted following, has a new book by Harvey Fierstein and will have Jeremy Jordan as well, who seems well on his way to Broadway stardom, and when you achieve Broadway stardom in a Disney musical, you’re bound to be around for a long while. So, Happy New Year to Jeremy Jordan. It’s going to be your year. “Newsies” will open at the Nederlander Theatre this Spring.

Lincoln Center Theater has had a banner 2011 as well, first with the Tony-winning and magical “War Horse”, which is still packing them in at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre and is about to get a fresh new cast, all entering the show en masse at the same time, and then, with the stirring and beautifully done “Blood And Gifts” by J.T. Rogers, directed by Bartlett Sher, with a stunning cast, at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater. It was a beautifully told story of our involvement in Afghanistan from the 80’s to the present, and played like a really terrific movie. Kudos to Bernard Gersten and Andre’ Bishop!! And let’s not forget the quiet, sensitive musical version of Shaw’s “Candida” at the Newhouse, called “The Minister’s Wife”, which also played the Newhouse back in May.

“Other Desert Cities” is now on Broadway, where it belongs, after also playing the Newhouse last Winter, and Jon Robin Baitz’s play is aptly served up by a stellar cast that includes Stockard Channing, Stacey Keach, and Judith Light, soon to be joined by Justin Kirk replacing Thomas Sadoski, and in a few months, the returning Elizabeth marvel, taking back the role of the daughter whose painful memories in the form of a soul-cleansing manuscript instigates the actions in the play. Director Joe Mantello has done his best work in years here, and even found time in the midst of all this, to appear in a brilliant revival of Larry Kramer’s “The Normal Heart”, which turned out to be one of the highlights of the Spring theater season, and which will soon continue in London and on tour, presumably without the ubiquitous Mr. Mantello, who undoubtedly has other fish to fry. And let’s remember to give Mr. Mantello a huge round of deserved applause for his sensitive work on a play called “The Other Place”, which served as a showcase for the unique talents of Laurie Metcalf, who rocked our world as a woman with deep emotional and psychological scars, and who is soon to appear in London’s West End in a revival of “Long Day’s Journey Into Night”.

And speaking of London, sure, it boasted one of the worst musicals I’ve ever had the calamity to witness(that would be the musical version of “Ghost”, which arrives to pollute our shores in March or April, I could care less which), but there were also a few gems this summer I had the pleasure to experience. There was a spirited and revelatory revival of O’Neill’s “Anna Christie” at the Donmar Warehouse, directed by Rob Ashford and starring Jude Law, David Hayman, and Ruth Wilson, luminescent in the title role. This production came as a huge surprise, and hopefully, will arrive here in NYC in the Fall. At the National, there was the hilarious “One Man, Two Guvnors”, based on “The Servant Of Two Masters”, updated to 1960’s Brighton by Richard Bean, with terrific original music by Grant Olding, which is an energetic farce with 20 of the funniest minutes on stage at the end of Act One you’re ever want to see. This is also due to arrive here soon, about to replace the lackluster revival of “Private Lives” at the Music Box Theatre. The Southwark Playhouse’s revival of the musical “Parade”, turned what I always thought was just an ok musical into a revelation, all staged in a damp, dank underground vault in South London. Now here’s a show that Lincoln Center should revive, with a director like Bartlett Sher and a star like Michael Stuhlbarg. It would erase all memories of Hal Prince’s debacle original production from my mind. Also in London, a new play called “The Faith Machine” at the Royal Court Theatre, hopefully soon to come here and hopefully to be directed by Joe Mantello, and at the National, a revival of a play called “The Kitchen”, beautifully directed by Bijan Sheibani, with movement by Aline David. Stunning, just lovely and stunning. Would that it would come to these shores.

And mention should be made of the following: Reed Birney in “A Small Fire”, Mandy Patinkin in “Compulsion”, Frances McDormand in “Good People”, Richard Thomas in both “Timon of Athens” and “Standing on Ceremony”, as well as Matthew Rauch, Jonathan Hogan, Jim Belushi, Brian Bedford,Jim Parsons, Stephen Spinella, Norbert Leo Butz, Mark Rylance, Yul Vasquez, and Danny Burstein.

All in all, not a bad year.